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Nobody Is in Jail for Canada’s Deadliest Terror Attack

The bomb-maker behind the Air India bombing is out on parole while his alleged co-conspirators have mostly disappeared.
January 27, 2016, 11:10pm
Photo Via The Canadian Press/Darryl Dyck

Inderjit Singh Reyat built the bombs that killed 329 people aboard an Air India flight in 1985. This week, he will walk out of a Canadian prison.

Reyat is the only person ever convicted in connection with the worst terror attack in Canadian history.

His alleged co-conspirators escaped convictions, likely due to Reyat's perjury. Since then, they have either disappeared entirely or died. One is suing the Canadian government for the costs of his legal bills. Reyat, meanwhile, has been let out on statutory release to complete his sentence in the community.

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For the families left behind, it's the latest in a long string of disappointments over the way the Canadian government has handled the case.

The bombing occurred in June, 1985 when Air India flight 182, bound from Toronto to New Delhi, exploded in mid-air off the coast of Ireland. Everyone on board was killed, most of whom were Canadian citizens. Two Japanese baggage handlers were killed by a second bomb detonated at the Narita International Airport less than an hour before. Until the 9/11 attacks, it was the deadliest act of terror in the world.

Both attacks were traced back to Reyat, a mechanic and Sikh extremist from British Columbia, who planned the bombings as retaliation against the Indian government. He pleaded guilty to to two counts of manslaughter for building the explosives.

But because Reyat was found to have lied and withheld information about them at trial, his alleged co-conspirators Ripudaman Singh Malik and Ajaib Singh Bagri were ultimately acquitted of murder and conspiracy charges. Other suspects in the case, known to police in Canada, disappeared from the country without a trace in the days leading up to the attacks. The prime suspect and alleged mastermind, Talwinder Singh Parmar, fled from BC to India, where he was killed by police in 1992.

Malik and his family are suing the province of British Columbia to recover $5 million in legal costs. The province alleges he hid assets in order to qualify for legal aid. In 2011, Bagri also took the province to court, suing them for legal costs, and for damages for violating his Charter rights during the prosecution of his case. Bagri claims Canada's spy agency, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, destroyed recordings of witness interviews and improperly intercepted conversations.

"Cascading series of errors."

A 2010 federal commission concluded that a "cascading series of errors" occurred across many levels of law enforcement following the attacks, including by Canada's intelligence and spy agencies, that led to the failure to hold all the perpetrators responsible. To this day, more than $130 million has been spent on investigations and inquiries into the events.

On Tuesday, Canada's National Parole Board reluctantly ruled to release Reyat to serve the rest of his sentence in the community. The Board is bound by Canadian law to do so when prisoners serve two-thirds of their sentence.

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"It is difficult to assess whether there has been a reduction in willingness or preparedness to offend," the parole board wrote in its decision. A 2013 report put Reyat at a "relatively high risk" to reoffend.

"You have indicated that you now recognize that your deception while testifying demonstrates your support for political based violence," it continues. "Your shift to accepting this responsibility is only partial and relatively recent. You are described as still quite guarded."

As part of the conditions for his release into a halfway house, Reyat must abide a set of strict conditions including not contacting any of the victims of the attack, mandatory counselling, and not accessing or possessing any extremist propaganda.

"He gets to be with his family and our family members are gone forever. It's an incredibly upsetting feeling today."

In reaction to Reyat's release, Renee Saklikar, whose aunt and uncle died on the Air India flight, told Global News she was shocked by his release. "He gets to be with his family and our family members are gone forever," she said. "It's an incredibly upsetting feeling today."

Bal Gupta, the husband of one of the victims, added that "there are certain things that cannot be changed. But when we get these letters saying that he's out, those who have lost their near and dear ones, we will suffer for the rest of our lives.

"Let's hope and pray that anything like this doesn't happen again."

Last year, Canada's federal police, the RCMP, said its investigation into the events surrounding the bombings was still active and ongoing.

Follow Rachel Browne on Twitter: @rp_browne